Miami Dolphins

The case for Cameron Wake, Comeback Player of the Year

With another half-sack, Cameron Wake will have 10 or more for the fourth time in his career.
With another half-sack, Cameron Wake will have 10 or more for the fourth time in his career. AP

Matt Moore, of course, is the story here Saturday.

How will the Dolphins' backup quarterback handle his first start in five years?

Can the Dolphins keep their playoff dreams alive against the hated Jets?

But by now, that's ground already covered.

So here's a fascinating subplot you might not have considered:

Can Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake make enough plays in Miami's final prime-time game to win Comeback Player of the Year?

Wake, now 14 months removed from an ugly Achilles tendon tear, has again defied the odds.

Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake talks about the loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Thurs., Sept. 29. 2016.

He's 34. He's got a scar on his left leg from reconstructive surgery.

And somehow, he's again one of his team's best players -- and that qualifier might be selling him short.

Wake's 9.5 sacks not only lead the team, but rank 10th league-wide. Only three players have forced more fumbles than Wake's four.

And remarkably, he's done all this as a part-time player. Wake has been on the field for just 466 snaps this year -- some 300 fewer than Denver's Von Miller, whose 13.5 sacks lead the league.

Put it all together, and Wake fits the description of Comeback Player of the Year. If he hasn't shown perseverance in overcoming adversity, show us someone who has.

"A fantastic player," Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said of Wake recently.

But so is DeMarco Murray. And Jordy Nelson. And Le'Veon Bell. And a slew of other deserving candidates Wake will need to beat out.

Murray is the league's second-leading rusher (1,135 yards) after a disastrous one-year stint in Philadelphia. Nelson didn't play a snap in 2015 after tearing his ACL in the preseason, yet leads the NFL in touchdown catches (12). Bell had knee issues of his own last year, but has rushed for over 1,000 yards and caught 67 passes in 2016 despite missing the first three games due to a drug suspension.

And yet, Wake's stiffest competition might be another pass rusher. Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul could get the sentimental vote; he lost fingers in a Broward County fireworks accident on July 4, 2015.

Pierre-Paul has been good this year (seven sacks, 24 hurries), but Wake has arguably been better, despite fewer opportunities.

While dashing to a late-afternoon meeting Thursday, Wake told the Miami Herald that he hasn't given much thought to winning Comeback Player of the Year, which is awarded by both the Associated Press and the Pro Football Writers of America.

"It would be something that I would probably enjoy when the offseason came, but I'm just trying to do whatever I can to keep winning games," Wake said.

Was it on his list of pre-season goals?

"No," Wake chuckled. "I don't think anybody wants that, but if it's a must, I'll take it."

A year ago last month, Wake had far more pressing concerns -- like being able to get out of bed.

Rehab from a life-changing injury was new to him. He simply can't sit still. It's just not in his nature.

But he had no choice in the weeks following the injury; while he never contemplated retirement, Wake acknowledged the mental aspect of his recovery was by far the hardest part.

So when he was finally cleared to run again, he did so whenever he could. While teammates would share pictures from exotic vacations in the offseason, Wake's Instagram feed served as his workout journal.

And the time stamp was often the middle of the night. He regularly posted pictures and videos of himself, alone, in the Dolphins weight room or practice bubble.

 

What you do in the dark.......

A video posted by Mr. Wake (@ninety1) on

Sure, those social media musings were for the outside world. But it's hard to believe they weren't for himself, too -- a reminder of where he's been, and where he's going.

And now here he is, one of the best players in franchise history, about to play perhaps the biggest game of his career. Wake has never been to the playoffs, and has only been part of a relevant December team once before, in 2013.

Everything Wake and the Dolphins have done in the last 11 months has been building to this moment, including their decision to limit his snaps early in the season.

He was on the field for just 16 plays in Miami's loss at New England, and only 15 two weeks later against the Bengals.

But with the playoffs in sight, the Dolphins are no longer holding him back. Wake played 46 downs in last week's win over the Cardinals, and will have no limitations Saturday night.

Miami Dolphins DE Cameron Wake talks about the "nasty taste" in his mouth after a defeat, the same taste he had in high school, it doesn't change. The Fins were defeated by the Tennessee Titans at Hard Rock Stadium, 30-17, October 9, 2016.

“I think he’s in really good shape," said Dolphins coach Adam Gase. "We wanted to take it a little slower at the beginning of the season, but still, he was coming off an injury, and we were trying to be smart with that. We did not want to have something happen there in those first three or four games."

Gase added: 'I think he’s back as far as strength goes and for his entire body to where he has put himself in position to where he can stay healthy for the rest of the season."

▪  The Dolphins are expecting to have nearly all hands on deck Saturday. Only Ryan Tannehill has been ruled out.

Nine Dolphins were listed as questionable on their final injury report, including linebackers Kiko Alonso (hand/hamstring) and Jelani Jenkins (hand/knee) and cornerback Xavien Howard (knee). Receiver Jarvis Landry missed practice Friday to tend to a personal issue.

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley

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